Settling In

4 - 9 Feb 1996

Sun 4 Feb

What with our very late briefing, we are just stirring at 0900 when visitors, including LT Bishop, drop in. Embarrassing.

Miller and Reschke go out, Comfort and I stay back to set up the operations area. About noon SFC Holmes, the motors NCOIC and CW3 Black, the maintenance chief, come up for coffee. Holmes is a wiry short guy with a sharp tongue when necessary but generally easy to get along with. Black has a crooked grin and a mustache (soon to disappear) and a great sense of humor. We like all the in-charge people here. The BMO is 1LT McDonald, a young West-Pointer with a wry sense of humor. Humor will go a long way toward making this experience livable. Later on we meet one of the cooks, SPC Curler. Curler will be in charge of the mess section. Eventually they will use the kitchen but for now are using an MKT behind the maintenance bay. Curler refers to Demi as "Cloutier's correctional center and dining facility". He's a wise-crecking kid with, unfortunately, an occasionally serious attitude problem.

We have started drawing radio watch. I have it 1800-2400. The big event of the evening was a row with the remaining Pakistanis about removing bunks. All of them are enlisted, none speak English. Bn said at first to let them go, then reversed themselves. Chief blocked the gate with a vehicle. Finally their OIC came around. Apparently the UN has signed things over to NATO but the word has not gotten to everybody. For a time it looked like things might get nasty. That's all we need - a war with Pakistan. In my spare time I generate some eyewash graphics for the CIMIC center. The lack of a copier will be a continuing nuisance here - even at Demi copies are strictly rationed. Toner is in short supply. The laser printer is down because of software problems so all the printing initially is dot-matrix and slow. Also uses ribbons like crazy.

Foggy all day, occasional rain, light snow at night.

Yesterday an E7 was killed by a mine up north. He stepped off the road to go to the bathroom. (That was the initial story. Evcentually it developed that SFC Dugan was killed trying to disarm it with a Leatherman. Nobody ever figured that out - he was experienced enough to know better.) Tonight the commander's Bradley hit a mine and lost a tread. No injuries, although they got rattled around quite a bit. (The hatches were open, a measure that UN experience showed minimized overpressure injuries.

Poor Chief Black. He was hoping for a nice quiet evening. Between the Pakistanis and recovering LTC Briscoe's Bradley, he's busy all night. Also an M88 threw a track at Demi.

1LT McDonald comes back about 2300, says "Clout the crusher" (Cloutier) wants him as HHC XO. In general, people here like being "away from the flagpole" - so do we.

Chaplain (CPT) Carr drops by, a nice down-to-earth Methodist with a pleasant mid-southern accent. Says he's married to a "recovering Catholic". He eventually becomes one of our favorite people here.

While trying to hook up the ANCD to the radio, I had my glasses between the seats in the Hummer, because I take them off for close work. I needed more leverage to attach the cable, and leaned down on one hand, right on the glasses. Snapped them at the bridge. For a while I tape them, but eventually just start using the Army-issue "birth-control glasses". As if sex appeal counts here.

Mon 5 Feb

Five years ago today I left for Saudi.

We have two inches of snow by 0700, light snow all day, six inches by noon. All missions cancelled. I read, work on the operations area, write letters, help CPT Miller string phone lines upstairs.

Chaplain Carr holds a very moving ecumenical service at 1000. He has a magnificent singing voice. Plus I find even chaplains have gone electronic. He has a little computerized music box with literally hundreds of hymns in it, sort of a portable organist.

We have the Sports Illustrated issue that covers the Green Bay-49ers game. It makes me very homesick, not for football, but thinking of the nice time Shawn and I had that day.

Miller and I get ready to go to Staff Call at 1615. After waiting half an hour, the convoy is scrubbed because of the snow. Even the Army has snow days, although this would have been a ten-minute-late-for-work day in Green Bay.

I get to bed at 2100, early for a change.

Tues 6 Feb

Up at 0700 - we hear that missions are on standby with road conditions red. At 0830 we hear the mission is on, then off, then on again. We finally leave at 1100. Some vehicles have chains - we don't. The roads are packed snow, not bad. We go to Sekovici. Miller and Comfort talk with the mayor and inspect the elementary school. Psyops hands out the IFOR newspaper Vestnik Mira (Messenger of Peace), printed in Roman letters on one side and Cyrillic on the other. The Cyrillic side reads Glasnik Mira and there are other slight vocabulary differences I note. CI Chief (CW2) Sally Kennedy meets with a local military commander. This will be our routine convoy makeup for most of the deployment: CA, Psyops and CI, all with interlocking interests, plus a fourth vehicle, usually the Scouts. Today, though, it is the medics. The arrangement will work well and all three shops will develop a good friendship, despite some inevitable screwups here and there. While I'm waiting with the vehicles, the usual gaggle of kids swarms around us. One has a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle knapsack.

Then we go on to Vlasenica. Kennedy goes to meet the local commander with her interpreter and we start getting very edgy as it gets darker. We have no idea where she is. She finally turns up at 1745. Ray is not amused. We go on to Brigade. There is a dicey moment as we pass a convoy of M113's on the narrow road. They slip badly in the snow. I am generally astonished at the poor traction of tracked vehicles in snow, but I would see and hear about it a lot. The MP at the entrance to LA Lisa tells us they will be checking 2045's, dispatches, clean lights and windows, the sure sign of people without enough to do.

Miller, Comfort, and SGT Lindemann of Psyops go to the TOC, the rest of us go to chow and wait. The parking lot by the mess area is the same quagmire it was when we first got in.

Our people here are not having a good time. They do little CA and have only a poorly heated tent. The more I hear, the more it seems like we are in the best-organized area. Even Demi looks good compared to here.

We stop off at Demi, drop of CI, PSYOPS and the medics, then we top off, and pick up Chief Black's convoy back to LA Diane. He shaved, looks a lot different without his ratty little mustache. Finally get in at 2230.

Wed 7 Feb

Slack day - we are off. We are up very late, after 0900. We were exhausted. We spend the day working in the center. Reschke seals up some holes in the wall. We serve coffee to local workers outside. The front half of the building used to be a rooftop terrace, and they are now building additional rooms out there.

In many ways we have the best deal going. Not only are the facilities nice compared to everything else, plus away from the flagpole, but this area was little damaged by the war. There was little fighting in the area after 1993, and not much territory is due to change hands.

Today is the 21st anniversary of Antarctica Day. That's a private holiday between me and my wife. I called her via phone patch from Palmer Station in 1975 when she was expecting me to be completely out of reach.

I have radio watch 0000-0600. Try to sleep beforehand. Comfort gets back from Command and Staff at 2130, a reasonable hour for a change. He says the weather forecast is for up to 18" of snow.

The 96 CA guys are gone. They already are slated to go to the Middle East soon. They had semi-serious plans to bring some local girls in to celebrate the night before they left, but got severe heat from all quarters. Once we moved in here they basically let us take the mission over. They've earned it - they were here since December.

We have two interpreters. Branko "Bachi" Ivanovic is a loud, outgoing Serb from Belgrade who lived for some time in California. Semir Softic is a slender, quiet, mild-mannered Bosnian from Tuzla. Both get along superbly with us and each other as time goes by.

Thu 8 Feb

Radio watch 0000-0600. Print out reports, dictate a tape to Shawn. Two items of interest on the radio: the commander's mine-struck Bradley was finally extracted, and two guards were found sleeping in a track. That will get nasty. It would be just like Cloutier to pop in and check so I do it first. Ours are alert.

Light snow all night, about 4" by dawn. The rest of the team goes to Vlasenica for USAID meetings; getting out was a Chinese fire drill. I catch some sleep. About 1000, Chief Black warns of a possible move back to Demi. There's a big Serbian demonstration in Han Pijesak, about 20 km south of Vlasenica. That's General Mladic's headquarters. Brigade is sending a show of force. The Muslims captured two Serb officers on January 29 and are holding them as war criminals, and the Serbs are setting today as the deadline for their release. Black, Bishop and I see this as over-reaction. So far it's a purely civil problem for the Serbs, if indeed it's a problem at all.

There are a number of cats around. A little gray and white one has adopted me. He sleeps on my bunk and on me when I'm in it. It has been a mystery where he dumps until today - under Bachi's bunk. He has a constantly runny nose and sprays when he sneezes. He's lovable but I can't get too attached - the General Orders prohibit pets and keeping him around will only be cruel. There are also two little dogs, T-Rat and MRE. They were over at Demi until Cloutier threatened to shoot T-Rat, so the mechanics brought them over here. I doubt he would have - the paperwork associated with expending a round is horrendous - but with Cloutier you never know.

We call the cat Choagie. The word was slang somewhere for "gofer". The 96 CA guys used it for their call sign and made up a BS story about it being a Cherokee Indian word for "assistance". Our call sign, of course, is "Packer". All our elements are Packer, so we are Packer 3.

It stops snowing in the morning. I spend the time on language study. It snows steadily in the afternoon. There is no word on the team at 1330 and they are due back for a meeting in Kladanj at 1400. Between vehicle recovery and the scare at Han Pijesak, the radio traffic is non-stop. At 1350, amazingly, we hear the team is almost to Kladanj.

The team comes in about 1930 - they had dinner (not a great one) with the mayor of Kladanj. Hearing they got to eat out makes me feel a tad less guilty about having the day to myself, although with our schedule of long days and often unpredictable missions, we learn to take down time when and where we can.

There's a little chickadee-like bird around here with the familiar black cap and bib, plus a streak down the breast. The breast is yellow. After I get back to the States, I look it up in a bird book and find out it is called a Great Tit. (As soon as I described it, my ornithologist colleague was able to identify it.) Now how am I supposed to tell people I saw lots of Great Tits in Bosnia?

It's bitter cold in the U.S. The high in Green Bay a day or so ago was -16, the low -27.

Fri 9 Feb

We are working mission days/down days. This is a down day but thanks to radio watch it is my third in a row. I need it. Sleep late, shower, clean snow off vehicle. SGT Reschke, as usual, is cleaning the kitchen.

We are sending a show of force to Han Pijesak today. It's in the 2/68 area (the next op area to the south) but we can get there easier without having to build bridges. There is concern the Serbs may try to take IFOR hostages in retaliation for their captured officers.

I spend some time in the afternoon carving a chess set out of scrap wood from the construction out front. The mine-struck Bradley is in the compound and I get some pictures. The rear three roadwheels on the left side are gone.

At 1700 I drive Comfort to Staff Call, return about 2200. Light snow off and on.

Comfort is the best ground guide I have ever seen. His signals are very clear. I follow his instructions exclusively and never have the slightest problem. Also he has the nerve to get in peoples' faces to get what he needs. The down side is that he gets a bit abrasive at times.

Scott Miller is confident, has been everywhere, but is very mild-mannered. (Not quite true, but between the two of us, we have been just about everywhere!) Comfort sometimes thinks he's not assertive enough. Miller, for his part, sometimes loses patience with Comfort's blunt style. Miller has one of every hoo-ah badge ever made; I think that goes a long way toward earning us respect. Nevertheless, he has utter contempt for the collecting-badges mentality, and the idea that tabs necessarily make one soldier better than another.

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Last update 23 Apr 1997